A strategy for growth by keeping it small – Lesson 4 from Branson’s Business Stripped Bare

Once a business matures and is established, it can become more challenging to retain that excitement. What we do at Virgin is not let businesses get too mature. If you can keep the businesses relatively small, people will know each other within the organisation and feel like part of a team.

This strategy has led to a large organisation made up of a great number of entrepreneurial, family style businesses all held together by the way it has consistently delivered on its brand proposition and values.

This has implications in terms of how these businesses are set up and Branson’s role within them. What they do is

If we set up a new airline we create a completely separate stand-alone entity

That entity would have its own management structure and once the thing is up and running, Branson gets out of the way (more on this soon!).

By keeping each separate business small, it means that people feel part of something they can grasp, they can see the results of their efforts and it is also easier to put things in motion.

We never let people sit on their laurels, and we keep on trying to improve things. The minute Virgin Atlantic was voted “The airline with the best business-class seats in the world” in the UK Airline awards, our designer was already beginning to work on the next seats in order to beat our own expectations rather than our competitors’. You must either stay ahead of other people, or stay ahead of yourself, all the time. If you really put your mind to it you are normally going to find a better way

As a “small” company it is easier to engage everyone in the activity of improving the offering, especially when they have the customer at the centre of everything they do.

How do you structure your growth? Do you plan to grow organically, by acquisition? Is your dream to have a large corporate organisation or will you create a structure that supports growth and yet still keeps things “small”?

Another great book you can read on this is “Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham – there are some great examples there of amazing “small” companies.

Soon I will be launching a new programme for those select few of you who aspire to achieve similar success to Mr Branson and who would like to model and apply some of the learnings and strategies highlighted in this series. Keep an eye out if this is something that may interest you!

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Create what you stand for – the third lesson from Branson’s Business Stripped Bare

From day one, Herb and his executive colleague Colleen Barrett focused on developing the company’s culture – a way of doing things that would sustain its founding values as the years went by.

Here Branson is talking about Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines, someone he greatly admires and who started the price and service revolution in the airline business.

One of the main reasons that the Virgin empire has been able to grow into a number of various industries is because regardless of the industry they have always remained true to their values and have built a culture within the organisation that sustains and nurtures them. It means that people know how to behave within the organisation and what is expected of them.

Throughout the book, Branson mentions the Virgin values. Some of them are:

Customer service, innovation, honesty, caring, value, fun, giving people a good time, irreverent humour, honesty about the ups and downs of our business, in this together, family, informality, plain speaking.

And there may be more but those are the ones that I have picked up. These values inform everything they do, from recruitment to marketing, training and selling, etc. And they bring these values to every industry they enter – in fact they use them to differentiate them from others in those industries.

Richard Branson is a great business man to model because he seems to do naturally what others have to study in order to do – more on this when we speak about natural leadership in another lesson.

At the moment there is a growing emphasis in the area of neuroscience and how our biology and particularly the biology of the brain affects our awareness and our decision making amongst many other functions. One of the premises is that like it or not we are social and emotional beings and we are wired to perform, create and make decisions in a social / emotional context (explaining this without getting into the science for now!). Now take this quote from the book:

So put people together in a way that will have them bouncing ideas off each other, befriending each other, and taking care of each other and suddenly they are coming to you, not with gripes and problems but with solutions and great ideas.

Not only does this ensure that the values are lived daily in the organisation but that people are able to perform at their best because they are encouraged to work in a way that humans work best.

So, what are you creating? Does your creation support and even embody what you stand for? Do the people that you recruit share those values? If they do they will make the decisions that you would want them to make. How can you make it even more evident in your organisation? How can you create a business where everyone pulls in the same direction and create together a future for your business?

Let me know your stories here.

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Second lesson from Business Stripped Bare – Be clear, be very clear

Those of you who have been following me for a while will know that I am passionate about having a vision, a crystal clear vision for your business. And although Branson in his book says that he doesn’t think they had one for Virgin, he also says that for them it was all about superior customer experience in whatever sector they entered.

Our proposition isn’t hard to understand: we offer our customers a Virgin experience, and we make sure that this Virgin experience is a substantial and consistent one, across all sectors of our business. Far from ‘slapping our brand name’ on a number of products, we carefully research the Achilles heels of different global industries, and only when we feel we can potentially turn an industry on its head, and fulfill our key role as the consumer’s champion, do we move in on it.

When he speaks about the individual businesses within the Virgin group however, he does speak about vision and clarity. When talking about Virgin Trains, he says:

First and foremost, we knew from the start what it was we wanted to deliver, and we stuck to our guns in the teeth of official discouragement and negative press.

So they knew what they wanted to deliver to their customers and because their customers are central to their being, they insisted despite obstacles.

We wanted the best-looking, most comfortable trains because we knew anything less wouldn’t wash with a public that had had to put up with a declining service for far too long.

Then they were able to articulate clearly what they wanted and once again it was based on their desire to live their values and purpose regarding their customers.

Our trains had to be efficient – as green as possible- because we had no idea what would happen to the price of energy, and there was no hint or sign that energy costs were going to come down in the long term. (How right we were!)

A second consideration was the environment, not only the physical environment but also the commercial one. Their vision expands and gets clearer at each step.

Finally, we wanted the safest trains possible,because in the travel business, this is the bottom line: people are putting their lives in your hands. Nothing short of an act of God should ever put your customers at risk.

And cleare still! Once again they return to their core values and the core vision of serving the customer better than anyone else and they link this to an important factor in the travel industry – safety.

So the vision builds so that by the end there is a very clear picture of what the business and in this case, the trains will look like.

As Branson says:

Our propostition, then, was fully considered in the light of our core business values, our medium term strategic considerations and our long-term feelings about where our industry was headed. However overblown this sounds, this is what you should be doing all the time as you consider how to deliver on your business proposition.

So some questions for you:

  1. What is your business proposition?
  2. What values guide your business?
  3. How clear are you on where you want to be and what you want to achieve?
  4. What timeframe are you using?
  5. Are you able to paint a picture for anyone who asks that is clear and understood?
  6. Does this picture fit in your overall proposition?

I was asked following the previous post “How do you measure success particularly for a start up?” – well this is how. You set your vision, your goals in light of your industry and your environment, you set a time frame and then you measure the results.

To get started right away you can find some help here.

Watch out for the next post!

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Lessons from Branson’s Business Stripped Bare

There is no denying that like him or loathe him, Richard Branson is one of the most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs today. And I haven’t met many people who dislike the man or his reputation.

He has created a business model that many try to emulate with more or less success. He has created a large  organisation made up of a large number of relatively small, very successful entrepreneurial companies where people are prized and a true coaching culture exists.

What he has actually created is an amazing brand with strong brand values and a culture that binds all the smaller entrepreneurial companies together and leverages them in their different markets.

In one of his autobiographies, Business Stripped Bare , he shares some of the key ingredients which have lead to his success. In this short series, I will outline and summarise some of these key ingredients for you and encourage you to ask yourself what can you apply to your business and how you will do that.

People, People, People

Throughout the book you cannot fail but see a very strong message -central to the Virgin brand, the Virgin success are it’s people. Recruiting the right people, keeping them engaged and motivated, rewarding them for their efforts and successes is all key to the success of the business. As Richard says:

” I think if people are properly and regualrly recognised for their initiative, then the business has to flourish. Why? Because it’s their business; an extension of their personality. They have a stake in its success.”

So many business owners fail to understand the true power of that statement. Recruit the right people for your business, trust them to do their best and your business will grow.

And this leads to recruting the right people. Richard quotes Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines who said:

“It is difficult to change someone’s attitude – so hire for attitude and train for skill”

So when you are recruiting make sure you recruit people who share your values, the values of the organisation and then train them in the skills they are lacking. At Virgin, one of their core values is Customer Service, going the extra mile for the customer. So when they recruit they look for “dedication, and belief, and a willingness to go that extra mile for colleagues and customers”.

The other quality they recruit for is “discipline”.

“A self disciplined employee will have the patience to conduct routine business routinely, the talent to respond exceptionally to exceptional circumstances, and the widom to know the difference between the two.”

For Virgin, self discipline is not about being rigid and stuffy, for them it means that you can trust them to do the right thing and therefore you can give them control. This is an entrepreneurial organisation and grows in a way that maintains that culture, so trusting your people is key.

“Inspire your people to think like entrepreneurs, and whatever you do, treat them like adults. The hardest taskmaster of all is a person’s own conscience, so the more reponsibility you give people, the better they will work for you.”

How much trust do you need to have to do this? How many of you readily give your people more responsibility knowing that they will work better for you? The truth is that this is human nature. Think of a young boy – you tell him that he is in charge of making sure that your pet dog doesn’t leave the room as you are decorating in another room in the house. What will that young boy do? Probably even sit on the dog so he doesn’t move! Most of us relish true responsibility.

“Here is the good news: the more you free your people to think for themselves, the more they can help you. You don’t have to do this all on your own.”

Phew! Can you feel the weight lift from you? Or is your response – yeah, right! If you don’t feel relieved by this statement from Richard Branson, who has built an empire made up of entrepreneurial companies run by other people, ask yourself why. What is stopping you from letting others help you build your business?

So, in summary:

  1. Recruit the right people for YOUR business – make sure they share your values and train for skills.
  2. Recognise and reward initiative so people feel they have a stake in your business.
  3. Think about how important discipline is for you as a value. If it is important – recruit for it too.
  4. Treat your people like adults adn give them true responsibility.
  5. Free your people to think for themselves.
  6. How much of this do you already do? What impact does it have on your business? Where could you do more?

Remember this will directly impact your results and your growth.

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More on delegation as promised

Following on from my last post, here is a little more (as promised!) on the delegation hints and tips.

1. Delegate the whole task
There is nothing more frustrating than having only a tiny part of a task to do and feeling no ownership, completion, understanding of the whole task and the purpose. Don’t you get frustrated? It feels like you are just the “hired help” rather than someone who is adding value.  So make sure you delegate the whole task. Now, understand, there are projects that are huge and need lots of people to complete them. These are projects and not tasks. A project is made up of lots of tasks.

2.Ensure they understand exactly what you want them to do
How many times have you asked someone to do something, thought it was all ok and then that same person comes back an hour later and make it clear to you that they haven’t understood? Or even worse, you go check if all is ok a while later and they haven’t started because they haven’t understood? Before that person leaves to start on what you have asked them to do, check for understanding. To do that you have to do more than just ask “do you understand?”. Ask them to replay what they have been asked to do in their own words. Check the key points by “discussing” them and

3. Share what the end result will look like if you know
When you delegate a task, you want the person to be able to judge whether they have completed it successfully or not. In order to do that, they need to know what the end result will look like so that when they get there, they can say “Yes, done”. So paint a picture so that you have a general idea of at what stage each task or project should be at.

4. Agree when you would like feedback or a progress report
This will ensure that you are not one of those managers who constantly goes around asking how things are going and making people feel that you are checking up on them all the time. It also helps you manage your time effectively as it is now their responsibility to come to you at key agreed times during the task /project (if there are a number of tasks delegated) to check in with you, give you an update and if as in the point above, it was not clear what the results or next steps would be, to define the next steps. In some instances, you will have a timeframe, so the person will need to come back to you by the end of the day, week, etc. At other times, it will be a case of defining critical points in the project, when certain steps have been completed. Make a note of when people need to come back to you too.

5.Make the measures of success explicit
Wherever possible, let the person know how success will be measured by you and by others in the company or organisation.This allows the person to measure their success in the same way and avoids misunderstandings and confusion. for them if you can. If you can’t, then tell them as much as you can, let them know that you are not sure what it will be like when it is done, and then the next point becomes even more important.

6.Reward success
We seem to be great at letting people know when they haven’t succeeded (even though we don’t always do it well!) but when things go well, we can get caught up in the “what’s next on the list” cycle and forget to reward success. Now reward can be a simple “thank you” or it can be more depending on the task that has been delegated.

I have been asked about consequences – should there be consequences if the task is not completed successfully. For me that really depends on what the reason for failure or less success than you wanted, is. If it is due to negligence then consequences may be approapriate, if it is a learning issue then it should be addressed differently.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me here.

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The rules of delegation and why it can be so difficult to do well

My thoughts are full of the impending summer holidays and with that the preparation that needs to be done so that things continue to happen when I take a few days off with the boys. So it got me thinking about delegation and how so many of my clients find it a difficult thing to do well.

Well, the truth is that there are some requirements that need to be met before you can delegate successfully:

Who do you delegate to?
This person needs to be someone who is ready, willing and able to be delegated to and to successfully do what you have asked them to do. This person needs to be someone who needs little direction or support from you as a boss – they can and want to get on with it.

In the situational leadership model, these are the people found in the bottom left quadrant.

Now this does not mean that you cannot delegate to others who maybe still need a little more guidance in general. What it does mean is that you have to be careful to delegate something that is appropriate to them in terms of their skills and their willingness or motivation to do it.

When do you delegate?
Do so when there is a real need to do it rather than as an exercise for someone. So when your time would be better spent doing something else and the person above exists.

How do you delegate?
Delegate the authority, make them accountable for the results and retain the responsibility. Ultimately you are still responsible, but if you want to avoid the person feeling like you are breathing down their neck and haven’t really let go, then make sure they are accountable and have the authority to do what you have asked them to.

And here are some additional tips (or rules even!)

  • Delegate the whole task
  • Ensure they understand exactly what you want them to do
  • Share what the end result will look like if you know
  • Tell them when you would like feedback or a progress report
  • Make the measures of success explicit
  • Reward success

More on this in my next post.

Let me know what your tips for great delegation are below

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How to get the support you need when you need it

One of the things I have noticed when working with people in senior positions is that they can become worse and worse at asking for and getting the support they need the more senior they become. It’s like suddenly a belief kicks in that says:

“You’ve reached the top, well done and now you’re on your own!”

I’m pretty sure that expressions like “It’s lonely at the top” are born from this belief that now we have arrived we have only ourselves to rely. And when I delve deeper I find that it often comes from another belief that when you are the boss you must know more than everyone else and therefore it would be seen as a weakness of some sort to ask for help or support or , god forbid, admit that you don’t know something.

The reality however is somewhat different.

No matter what position we hold, we rarely know everything and as social animals, we need the relationships and interactions to function properly, to continue to grow and learn.

Another “reality” is that very often we find ourselves in leadership positions because either we have promoted ourselves to them – speaking to all you business owners out there – or because we have excelled at being technically competent in our jobs so we get promoted to a role where technical competence is no longer required and we now have to become excellent in other skills such as managing and leading people, motivation, engagement, delegation, feedback, etc., etc.

So how do you get the support you need, when you need it?

Well, this is how it goes:

  1. Realise you need help or support in a particular area – I continue to be amazed by the number of leaders who only realise they need help well after the rest of the team has identified it! Listen to your team, be attuned to how you are feeling, your levels of stress, how easily or not you are achieving your goals.
  2. Figure out what your desired outcome will be – so if you believe and now have evidence that you need help in changing your management style so that your people feel more empowered (for example!), take time to list out what you will see, hear and sense differently in your business when that happens. This way you will know when you have achieved it.
  3. Find the best person to help you achieve it – not just any trainer, coach, mentor, consultant will be right for you. Once you know what you want as an outcome, take some time to find the person who not only has the skill set to get you there but someone who you also have good rapport and chemistry with. This will make those moments when you are challenged to do things differently, so much easier to take.
  4. Commit to the change – once you have done this half the battle is won. Once you tell yourself what the result is that you want and you commit to it, you will already start making the necessary changes or finding the necessary information.

If you have identified that you need some help or support this summer and believe that I might be the person to help, then take a look at this very exciting and limited opportunity available right now.

Summer Success Programme

Speak soon!

Sonia

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What is holding you back?

I have been reading a great number of posts on linkedIn and facebook as well as the occasional blog all dealing with questions such as:

“Which strategy should I go for?”

“What system should I use for x part of my business?”

“What process should I use for recruiting?”

And I was sat on the bottom step at home with my iphone in my hand wondering why it is that so many people have those concerns and how it stops them from moving forward and achieving what they set out to, and a thought came to my mind:

“It’s not our mistakes that hold us back, it’s our fear of making them” (Sunday, 15th May 2011 – a moment of inspiration!)

I posted it on twitter, it was picked up by Carrie Wilkerson the Barefoot Executive who retweeted and it has now been passed on a number of times. It seems to have struck a chord. Why is that I wonder?

How many of us are so afraid of getting it wrong that we do nothing instead? How many more things would get done and be achived if we were less afraid?

I know that I have been guilty of severe procrastination and inaction in the past and most of the time all it has got me is a lot of soulsearching and heartache. There are also times, more recently when I have taken action and it hasn’t worked or has even gone drastically wrong. But you know what? On those occasions I have still got something, at a minimum I have learned what doesn’t work for me.

For those of us who have children, how often do we let our children make mistakes and then help them learn from them? Or do we rescue them? A part of me would like to say that I let them make their own mistakes but I know that I do rescue them often. Now at 11 and 5 they are young, but there are times when I could just let the mistake happen. Recently I have done that with my eldest adn homework, but boy is it hard!

Personally I have had to learn how to cope with things going wrong or not working out as I intended but that has been a small price to pay for all I have achieved and all the things that have worked well through taking action.

In my recent video series I talk about strategy as a roadmap and how there are many roads that will get you to your destination, you just have to pick one and be flexible enough to change course should it become necessary.

I guess this message has been brewing for a while…

Have you made mistakes and learned from them? Does the fear hold you back? Let us know here

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What are you willing to do to get into the exclusive 1% entrepreneur club? (Part Two)

Downtown LA's office skyscrapers. Including th...

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Now what is the 1% entrepreneur club I hear you cry? Well you’ve heard of the pareto rule – for example where 20% or your clients will be providing you with 80% of your income. Well in the entrepreneurial world the balance is slightly different. Only 1% of entrepreneurs really make it into the big league, with businesses that are profitable, growing and providing value on a large scale. The vast majority of people who start their own businesses struggle, just make do or eventually give up.

So what is it that makes this 1 percent successful? I’ve put a list of the top 7 differentiators together for you, and in our last post I gave you the first four which were:

  1. Take time to create a crystal clear vision for your business and for yourself
  2. Focus on the vision rather than the how as the how will reveal itself
  3. Take action, action, action
  4. Stretch yourself and your business and commit to that success

The next three are:

5.       Know your business – these entrepreneurs know their business and their market. They are authorities in their space. They study their businesses to ensure that their customers experience “wow” at every touch point. Go on one of Carrie’s programmes and you will experience it firsthand. How well do you know your business?

6.       Relationship building – these entrepreneurs are constantly building relationships inside and outside their sector, with those who have made it and those on the way up. Their networks are amazing and they can leverage them also. How effectively do you leverage your network?

7.       Contribute widely – just about every entrepreneur in the 1 percent contributes in some way to their communities, to their societies, to causes, etc. There is an element of philanthropy in what they do. Why? Because they get their enjoyment and satisfaction from much more than just making money. It’s about making a difference in whatever way they can. And they do this from the beginning in some form – we just get to hear about it once the giving gets big! The added bonus here is that you are communicating to all your stakeholders what you stand for, what you are prepared to support and you will find friends, supporters and customers in that group too.

So where are you going to start. Which one of the above are you not doing now that you could start doing tomorrow?

Let me know!

Have you signed up for my new video training series on “How to have the business of your dreams AND on your own terms”? Go to http://www.journeytoleadershipsuccess.com/videoseries to learn:

  • The three things you have to have in your business to ensure success
  • One small tweak in your thinking which will produce amazing results that you will be able to sustain
  • The secret to having a business on your terms
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What are you willing to do to get into the exclusive 1% entrepreneur club?

Jeremy Clarkson called Richard Branson a beard...

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Now what is the 1% entrepreneur club I hear you cry? Well you’ve heard of the pareto rule – for example where 20% or your clients will be providing you with 80% of your income. Well in the entrepreneurial world the balance is slightly different. Only 1% of entrepreneurs really make it into the big league, with businesses that are profitable, growing and providing value on a large scale. The vast majority of people who start their own businesses struggle, just make do or eventually give up.

So what is it that makes this 1 percent successful? I’ve put a list of the top 7 differentiators together for you and below are the first four:

1.       Crystal clear vision – these people know where they are going and what it will be like when they get there. Now Richard Branson has said in one of his books that this was not a strength of the Virgin Group. However I would beg to differ (sorry Richard!). He attributes their success to the strength of their brand, and I agree. They are very focussed on their brand, what it stands for, how it lives its values and how this permeates the company. This to me is vision also. This guides what they will and will not do, what they will and will not get involved in. And true to the Virgin brand, it provides them with a lot of freedom. (More in a later article!)

2.       Focus on the vision rather than the how – the how is the strategy, it is the roadmap. The mistake many business people make both in large and small companies is that they see the strategy as something that is written down, documented and adhered to in order to get to the vision. It means that they focus on the how rather than on the end goal. It is important to have a roadmap and on that map you need to plot where you are now and where you want to get to. Then the actual way will depend on how the land lies. And this leads to my next point:

3.       Action – the 1 percent take action. They choose a path and they go for it and if it turns out that something changed and the patch was no longer going to get them to the end destination, they re-look at the map and take another route. This is possible if your focus and commitment is on the goal rather than on how you are going to get there. It gives you the flexibility you need and the ability to keep finding new ways to achieve your dreams.

4.       Stretch and commitment – a lovely lady called Carrie Wilkerson, the Barefoot Executive, has a fantastic post on her BarefootTV channel about this. She says “Are you willing to spend 2 years of focussed effort on achieving your goal?” Her belief is that if you spend two years focussed, taking action and moving forward on your goal, you will achieve it. She is in the 1 percent of entrepreneurs.

So where are you going to start. Which one of the above are you not doing now that you could start doing tomorrow?

Let me know!

Don’t miss the next three differentiators in our next post.

Have you signed up for my new video training series on “How to have the business of your dreams AND on your own terms”? Go to http://www.journeytoleadershipsuccess.com/videoseries to learn:

  • The three things you have to have in your business to ensure success
  • One small tweak in your thinking which will produce amazing results that you will be able to sustain
  • The secret to having a business on your terms
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